Jury exonerates Seattle WTO protesters

SEATTLE (PAI) — It took seven years, but 147 of the Seattle protesters against corporate-centered globalization finally won — in federal court.

On Jan. 30, a federal district court jury ruled the city’s mass arrest of peaceful protesters in Westlake Park in 1999 was unconstitutional. The lead protester in the class action suit was Kenneth Hankin, a worker at Boeing Aircraft. City attorneys vowed to appeal. The suit did not cover the few protesters who destroyed property and smashed windows.

The peaceful protesters in the park, like the 50,000 others who came to on Seattle in late 1999, were challenging the policies of the World Trade Organization, whose leaders, including President Bill Clinton, were meeting there.

The peaceful demonstrators in Seattle, led by many U.S. union leaders, contended the WTO’s trade policies harm workers, the environment, communities, unions and native peoples worldwide.

The protests were also notable as a key instance where unions and environmental groups joined together in a common cause. Machinists District 751 members served as marshals, but none were involved in the class action suit, as far as the union knows.

The jurors decided the police made the arrests without probable cause and ruled that officers did not warn protesters to clear the park first. Lawyers for the protesters argued that Seattle had a policy of targeting the protesters for their views, and that arrests due to such targeting violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment’s protection of people against improper search and seizure.